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Phelan: Many lessons learned in the swimming pool

Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Holding a job during the school year is tough for most teenagers. In between school, sports and keeping up with friends, attempting to work part time can be tough. That’s why a lot of teens, myself included, have summer jobs. 

I’m fortunate enough to have a pool in my backyard, which is nice for hot days and for getting spending money for college. After being on a swim team since I was 5, I got my lifeguard certification and have been teaching half-hour swim lessons all summer. I’ve been teaching since June, and though I’m no longer taking new clients, I’m continuing up until I leave for school. 

This is my third summer teaching, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had to hold 3-year-olds up because they think they can’t float, been kicked in the face and demonstrated that I can, indeed, hold my breath for over a minute, and do all this while out in 95-degree heat and blazing sun. Like any lifeguard can tell you, being out in the water and sun for eight hours at a time isn’t as fun as it sounds. I now smell permanently of chlorine and sunscreen, even though I still have a constant sunburn that no amount of aloe vera can calm. 

However, I’ve gotten more than just a one-piece swimsuit tan from my summer of swim lessons. I’ve had kids who wouldn’t get off the steps in the first lesson swim in the deep end. I had a 9-year-old swim 15 yards with no breath. I’ve learned a remarkable amount about how to get kids to face their fears. The trick is to get them to have fun while they’re close to something that they’re scared of. Play as close to the deep end as you can for a few minutes. Work on just jumping off the diving board before you graduate to learning real diving. 

Despite being kicked in the gut and the face a few times, the kids aren’t the toughest part. Although most of the parents I work with are great, I’ve had a few problems with parents. Leaving during lessons (I require them to stay), yelling at their kids while I’m teaching them or bringing other children to the lesson and letting them run rampant around my backyard while screaming. It’s remarkably difficult to teach a 6-year-old to breathe to the side while your attention keeps getting grabbed by a toddler who’s dangerously close to the deep end. 

Although I do love my job and usually try to stop myself if I start complaining, it can get annoying when a parent consistently forgets to show up to lessons or decides to cancel without telling me. Just because I’m a teenager doesn’t mean that I can be disrespected. I love working in the water and working with kids – every time a kid really “gets” something because of me, I get even more excited to pursue a career in education. I can really see that the kids I teach have learned a lot this summer, but I think I’ve learned even more. 

• Courtney Phelan recently graduated from Geneva High School. She is an outgoing and energetic young writer who likes to swim, read and participate in general teenage activities. She can be contacted at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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